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The e-petition for debate calls for supermarkets to be required to offer a plastic-free packaging option for all fruit and vegetables.

There are no official estimates on the amount of plastic packaging used by supermarkets. While supermarkets have to report on the amount of plastic packaging used, this information is not publicly available and is deemed to be commercially sensitive. Estimates made by the Guardian have suggested a figure of around 800,000 tonnes of plastic packaging waste could be created each year from supermarkets use.[1]

Current legislation and incentives to reduce packaging and recycle stems from EU law. The EU Waste Framework Directive (2008/98/EC) provides for a “waste hierarchy” which sets an order of priority to apply to products and waste and requires that prevention and re-use options should be considered before recycling. Businesses over a certain size (such as the main UK supermarkets), which make or use packaging also have obligations to ensure that a proportion of the packaging they place on the market is recovered and recycled. This system has been criticised by the House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee and the National Audit Office for its lack of evidence to prove that it encourages increased recycling. The Government has said that it will seek to reform this producer responsibility system.

The Government has a number of policies in place aimed at encouraging a reduction in plastics in England. Most recently, at Budget 2018 it announced a tax on the production and import of plastic packaging, from April 2022. Other proposals from Government have included a ban specific single use plastic items, a deposit return scheme for plastic bottles and an extension of the carrier bag charge to all retailers. In its 25-year environment plan, the Government said that it would work with retailers and the Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP) to explore introducing plastic-free supermarket aisles in which all the food is loose. Devolved nation Governments are responsible for their own waste policies and have also made similar announcements. The EU Commission has also put forward proposals for a ban on single use plastic items.

There are also many voluntary initiatives to reduce plastics consumption. The WRAP has launched a “plastics pact” with a number of large retailers which sets a target to eliminate unnecessary single-use plastic packaging, for all plastic packaging to be re‑usable, recyclable or compostable and for 70% to be recycled or composted by 2025. Many supermarkets have also announced individual initiatives, such as allowing personal containers to be used in store and for ensuring that plastic used in recyclable.

The British Plastics Federation has called for reform of the PRN system but has also argued that single use plastics have an important role to play in “modern life”, particularly in regard to safety and hygiene.[2]


E-petition 222715 relating to plastic-free packaging for fruit and vegetables will be debated in Westminster Hall on Monday 12 November at 4.30pm. The petition reads as follows:

Require supermarkets to offer a plastic-free option for all their fruit & veg.

In response to the problem of an ever-increasing amount of plastic waste polluting our environment, we need to make supermarkets offer an option of no packaging or eco-friendly packaging for each item of fresh fruit and vegetables they sell.

Currently there is evidence of an intolerable level of plastic loose in the ocean. In order to back up the work being done to reduce this waste, it is necessary to reduce our use of packaging in an individual level, and among the most difficult to avoid is the packaging of fresh fruit and vegetables in supermarkets. Forcing supermarkets to provide us with the choice of buying cucumbers, cabbages, broccoli etc in eco-friendly packaging will enable people on their journey to zero waste.

As of 8 November 2018 the petition had 123,067 signatures. The petition remains open to sign until 21 December 2018. The Government responded on 7 November 2018:

We are working with retailers and the Waste and Resources Action Programme to explore the potential for the introduction of plastic-free initiatives in supermarkets in which fresh food is sold loose.

The Government shares concerns about plastic waste polluting our environment.

Our 25 Year Environment Plan published in January sets out measures to eliminate all avoidable plastic waste. We will do this through a four-point plan that takes action at each stage of the product lifecycle – production, consumption and end of life. At the production stage, this includes encouraging producers to take more responsibility for the environmental impact of their products and making sure plastic items are more carefully designed. At the consumer stage we want to reduce demand for single-use plastic. At the end of life stage, we will make it easier for people to recycle and increase the amount of plastic being recycled.

The Government is currently working with retailers to encourage their efforts to reduce waste and to explore the introduction of plastic-free supermarket initiatives in which fresh food is sold loose, giving consumers the choice. Packaging has an important and positive role to play in reducing product damage, increasing shelf-life, and reducing food waste. Keeping food fresher for longer through innovations such as vacuum packing and re-sealable packs has a significant impact on extending the life of products and reducing waste. If a product is wasted due to insufficient packaging then its disposal can have a greater environmental impact than the packaging itself.

There are opportunities where offering food loose may help to reduce plastic waste whilst not impacting on shelf life. We are currently working with retailers and the Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP) exploring the potential for the introduction of plastic-free initiatives in supermarkets in which all food is loose.

Further to this work, WRAP and the Ellen MacArthur Foundation have published their Plastics Pact with support from the government and 80 businesses, NGOs, government organisations and service providers. The Pact aims to make all plastic packaging reusable, recyclable or compostable by 2025. Participants will also work together to recycle or compost 70% of plastic packaging by 2025 while striving to eliminate single-use plastics in that timeframe.

Industry has also committed to implementing solutions that will enable the sustainable recycling of all black plastic packaging – bottles, pots, tubs and trays – by the end of 2018.

The government is also looking at further ways to reduce avoidable waste and recycle more as part of its Resources and Waste Strategy to be published later this year.

Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

The petition follows campaigns from environmental groups, such as Greenpeace, calling for supermarkets to heavily reduce plastic packaging, in order to help reduce the amount of plastic found in the oceans.[3]

[1]     “Nearly 1m tonnes every year: supermarkets shamed for plastic packaging” The Guardian, 17 January 2018

[2]     British Plastic Federation website, Plastic Packaging and the Environment [downloaded on 8 August 2018]

[3]     Greenpeace, Can we reduce plastic packaging and reduce food waste?, 30 April 2018

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